Persona Non Grata

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WASHINGTON: Colombian President Ernesto Samper was officially uninvited to the United States Thursday when the Clinton Administration yanked the scandal-plagued leader's visa, citing his alleged connections to drug traffickers. The move is part of an Administration strategy to isolate the Colombian leader, a former close ally who is now widely believed to have received political contributions from the Cali drug cartel before his 1994 election. Last month, the U.S. unsuccessfully pressured members of the Colombian congress to find Samper guilty of that charge. "When the Congress absolved Samper, the U.S. had several weapons in its arsenal, one of which was revoking his visa," says TIME Mexico City bureau chief Laura Lopez. "It is a psychological blow, but Samper has been fighting ever since he was elected, so he was probably braced for it." The U.S. maintains that the Samper government will not cooperate with its anti-drug efforts, particularly because he has refused to extradite four alleged Cali cartel leaders. His defense: Colombia's constitution forbids extradition, and Samper has insisted that Colombians will take care of the drug war on their own soil. Asked about the possibility that he might lose his visa, Samper remarked that he did not need a U.S. visa to govern Colombia. The revocation will not likely hurt Samperšs popularity at home, says Lopez, and could even strengthen his position. "A majority of Colombians donšt like the U.S. being a bully," she says. "Even if they think Samper is guilty -- a poll found 50 percent believe Samper might be guilty of something -- they do not think it is the business of the U.S. to punish him." -- Chris McKenna